Chapter Twenty Five

What I didn’t realize was that I had one more chance at love.

A girl came to my door my second day on the ward. She had dark hair and eyes, dark skin.

“Hey, Max,” she said. “What’s up?”

I looked up weakly. She came to my side.

“I’m Hannah,” she said. “Are you new?”

I shook my head.

“You mean you’ve been here and you’re back?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Me, too,” she said. “I was out, but I’m back.”

She grimaced. “This sucks, doesn’t it?”

“You’re not by any chance Jewish, are you?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“I am,” she said. “My mother grew up in Israel. She met my Dad in medical school and they got married. They’re very Jewish, they keep kosher and all that crap. I think it’s stupid.”

Stupid. Something about her use of this word intrigued me.

“Personally,” she said, “I don’t think that much of God. He did this to me, didn’t he?”

I nodded. He certainly did.

“And he did it to you,’ she said. “I can’t say this to just anybody, but I think he’s a sadist. I doubt that he ever has any fun.”

I smiled weakly. She put her hands on the edge of my bed and leaned forward. I could smell her hair.

“Sitting around judging people all day, handing out diseases and war and famine and all that shit,” Hannah said. “If I was God, I would make people happy. I would cure them, not give them cancer. I think he’s a bastard.”

I said nothing. I was listening.

“Some people, women mostly, think God is a woman,” she said. “But I don’t believe that. Women nurture people and keep them warm. Women care for their children. God takes the children away just for the hell of it. He’s a shit.”

She sighed. “Like flies are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.

She narrowed her eyes. “Say, Max, can’t you talk?”

I shook my head. I was too depressed to try to explain.

“Don’t bother,” she said. “I’ll do the talking for both of us. I love to talk. My teachers are always trying to shut me up. They’re morons. If you don’t say what they want to hear, they freak out. But every word that comes out of their mouths is predictable. It’s all the same pablum, over and over again.”

I didn’t know that word pablum.

She must have seen this in my eyes. “Shit, garbage, crap,” she explained. “Do you understand?”

I nodded.

She sat on the edge of my bed. “Most of the kids here are idiots. You can’t even have a halfway civilized conversation with them. They think in formulas. They regurgitate what their parents and teachers told them to think.”

Regurgitate. Another word I didn’t know.

“But you’re different, Max. I can see that. You’ve got a spark. You can think for yourself. That’s rare in here.”

She laughed. “Did you see the ward nurse sneaking that cigarette last night? Talking to her boyfriend on her cell. She actually said I says instead of I said. Do you believe that, Max? She probably never made it out of high school. ”

Stupid. An idea was forming in my mind, too vague to be put into words. This girl seemed familiar.

She grew thoughtful. “I think I’ll steal one of her cigarettes and smoke it in here with you. Have you ever smoked?”

I shook my head.

“We should have some fun before we croak,” she said. “How about some booze, too? With a little imagination I think I could get us some vodka. Shit, Max, it might even cure us.”

The TV in the room was on. A commercial was on showing a beautiful girl running up a steep hill in jogging clothes. Quick close-ups revealed the sweat on her skin and her smiling happy face. She was wearing earphones and listening to music as she ran.

“Quick, Max!” Hannah said. “What’s it a commercial for? Vitamins? Anti-depressants? Cereal? A soft drink? Quick!”

I wasn’t quick enough. The product being advertised was a medication for incontinence.

“Incontinence?” Hannah laughed. “Look at that, Max. Isn’t that the stupidest thing you ever saw?”

Bethany, I thought suddenly. Hannah was a Jewish Bethany. She held the world in contempt, she thumbed her nose at it. But she was cheerful and funny about it.

I gave her a questioning look. What was incontinence?

“Pissing your pants when you don’t want to,” Hannah said. “God, these advertisers will do anything.”

I laughed out loud. It was a weak laugh, but I meant it.

“You’re all right, Max,” she said.

Then, suddenly, “I can play the piano. Did I tell you that? I’ve been studying for years. My mother made me. I’m not very good, though. I’ve been in competitions, lost every one.”

She looked at me. “Who’s your favorite composer?”

Quickly she added, “Don’t tell me. I’ll read your mind.”

She put her eyes close to mine and looked deeply into them.

“Mozart,” she said.

I nodded, smiling.

“You’re in luck,” she said. “I can play Mozart on the piano. We’ll go in the playroom some day and I’ll play for you. I  think his piano sonatas are excellent, but what really blows me away are those late symphonies. Number 40 in G Minor. Number 41.”

I nodded eagerly.

“I have CDs of George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra playing those. Man, that guy knew what was happening,” she said, taking my hand. “He knew how to conduct.”

I hadn’t heard Szell’s recording of Mozart. I took a pen and wrote something on a pad.

“You want to hear them?” she asked. “No problem. My mother will bring them in. I have a Discman in my room right now. What would you think of Bruno Walter conducting Number 38? You want to hear that right now?”

I nodded. She left the room. I dozed for a couple of minutes. When she came back she saw how tired I was.

“You don’t have to listen right now,” she said. “Get some rest, Max. I’ll leave it here with you.”

I grabbed her hand. I had had enough of being controlled by the disease. I wanted to hear the symphony.

“Ok, man,” she said. She put the earphones on me and lay down in the bed beside me. I heard the first strains of the symphony, very grave and ponderous, which are followed by an upbeat, almost joyous first movement.

She was twirling a lock of my hair as I listened. She was looking into my eyes. She was very pretty, I realized, in her own shadowed way. Her mournful eyes concealed a   bright, irreverent personality. The contrast was interesting.

The slow part was over. The fast part had started, almost like a parade. I loved that movement. I smiled.

She could see the effect of the music on me. She took my hand.

“You’re all right, Max,” she said. She kissed my hand.

Definitely, I thought, this girl was not just Hannah. She had other people inside her.

She had been sent to me for a reason.